Sometimes, we need to appreciate the really big things in life — like the fact that even in 2020, Fat Bear Week has arrived right on schedule. The annual tournament kicks off today with head-to-head matchups continuing until October 6th. Anyone with an internet connection can tune into Katmai National Park’s live Bearcam to watch the behemoths binge on salmon, and viewers can vote each day for their favorite big beasts.
Fat bears are healthy bears. So Katmai National Park and Preserve started the tradition six years ago to celebrate its bears, who are likely among the fattest (and healthiest) of their species in the world. The Brooks River meanders through the pristine park, delivering a buffet of migrating sockeye salmon to its bears each summer. They’ve got to stuff themselves to prepare for winter hibernation, when they might lose a third of their body mass while holing up in their dens for up to six months.
By now, some of Katmai’s 2,200 bears are celebrities. Fans are already campaigning for their favorites, like last year’s “Queen of Corpulence,” bear 435 (aka Holly).
The first day of Fat Bear Week pits mother against son. Twenty-four-year-old Bear 402 is one of the biggest females along the Brooks River and has had more litters than any other. “She is the multitasking champion,” Naomi Boak, a Katmai Conservancy media ranger said during a bracket reveal live chat. “She will take [her cubs] up there and she will fish on the lip [of the Brooks Falls] like a champ, and still get fat.” Bear 402 doesn’t have any cubs to wrangle this year, which could free her up to pack on even more pounds. She’s going up against five-year-old Bear 812 today, who’s believed to be one of her sons and can be recognized on camera for his habit of licking his lips as he chows down. Whoever wins that battle will face off against aptly named Bear 747, one of the biggest bears in the entire park.
In another matchup today, underdog Bear 151 will face veteran Bear 856. “When  walks into the river at the falls, all the other bears make way,” Boak said. The two don’t actually compete with each other for food along the river; instead, the bears will have to win over fans to pull ahead. The winner of that match will go head-to-head with Otis, the very first Fat Bear champion in 2014. Otis is the oldest competitor in the tournament. He’s also missing two canine teeth, but that hasn’t stopped the OG from being a consistent fan favorite.
Unlike previous years, votes for Fat Bear Week will no longer be cast on Facebook. Eager bear watchers can make their pick between 12-10PM ET each day at https://explore.org/fat-bear-week. The champion will be named on October 6th, “Fat Bear Tuesday.”